TikTok User Data Has Been Compromised

TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, admits four employees accessed private information of American journalists.

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

tiktok death

In an increasingly online world, privacy is required as a commodity, with the Chinese-owned app, TikTok, often mentioned as a potential cyber-security threat on an individual and national level. Reporting from Variety confirms that the worst fears of cybersecurity experts have come true, as ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, fired four employees for improperly accessing user data. The fired employees accessed personal information belonging to two U.S. journalists in a misguided attempt to track down the sources of leaks.

Two of the employees worked in the U.S., and the other two worked in China, further emphasizing the threat posed by the popular app’s home country. ByteDance CEO wrote a letter to employees following the TikTok data misuse, saying “No matter what the cause or the outcome was, this misguided investigation seriously violated the company’s Code of Conduct and is condemned by the company. We simply cannot take integrity risks that damage the trust of our users, employees, and stakeholders.”

The TikTok data collected was not limited to the undisclosed reporters, one from Buzzfeed and another from The Financial Times, but included their friends and individuals that were in the immediate vicinity. This behavior is the exact opposite of what ByteDance said when Forbes, in October, released a report saying that the app would be used to track U.S. citizens. At the time, a TikTok representative said that the popular app “has never been used to ‘target’ any members of the U.S. government, activists, public figures or journalists.”

tiktok death

Two months later and ByteDance has publicly admitted, of their own volition, that yes, the app has been used to target U.S. journalists. Even before this stunning admission to violating user privacy, TikTok was in danger in the U.S. following the filing of a bill in the Senate, with bipartisan support, asking President Biden to ban TikTok. Similarly, a bill was introduced in the House to ban the app on all federal devices, matching a similar policy used by the U.S. Military to ban the installation of the app on military devices, though soldiers can have it on their personal devices, for now.

ByteDance has spent an astronomical $1.5 billion to establish a data security division to meet the requirements of the U.S. government. When President Biden revoked President Trump’s executive order threatening to ban TikTok, the current President also started an official investigation into apps with ties to “foreign adversaries,” a crucial first step towards an eventual ban on apps that could be weaponized against the country. As Senator Rubio said, “this isn’t about creative videos — this is about an app that is collecting data on tens of millions of American children and adults every day.”

In today’s political environment, it is increasingly rare to find an issue that gets bipartisan support, which means TikTok and ByteDance face a very real threat of being banned on U.S. soil. With the admission that employees spied on American journalists, accessing their information, their friends’ information, geographical locations, and other potentially sensitive data, the nebulous threat of data security is now very real. The thought of an employee, or a group of them, at ByteDance accessing information to harm the United States now represents a clear and present danger.